Holding the Eel of Science by the Tail: Women's Sociability in the Eighteenth-Century British Scientific World
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In eighteenth-century Britain, intellectual and scientific activities were primarily organized through the operations of formal societies; however, these scientific societies did not admit women as members. Despite this, a community of upper class women grasped the “eel of science” by its elusive tail and engaged in intellectual and scientific activity without the benefit of advanced formal education at a university or academy. This informal gathering of male and female friends began to refer to their group as the Bluestocking Philosophers. This thesis examines the Bluestocking Philosophers by considering the concepts of community, network, public/private, knowledge, and understanding, and how these concepts fit into the broader histories of women in science. By examining the interactions, social rituals, and the pursuit of knowledge of the Bluestockings, I shed light on women’s active sociability within the scientific community and thereby further our understanding of gender and science in the eighteenth century. Founding member, Elizabeth Montagu, is the center of this study. She facilitated the group’s participation in philosophical discussions, made recommendations of studies of natural history, classical history and a broad range of philosophies, and engaged in the mutual exchange of scientific knowledge and objects. It is for these reasons that I bring the studies of the Bluestocking Society into the context of the scientific activities occurring in eighteenth-century London. By exploring the topics of sociability, education, identity formation, and the creation of an intellectual society, I argue that members of the Bluestocking society desired to be involved in public science because they were shaped by their unique circumstances as affluent, childless, well-educated, and sociable women.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
SupervisorSmith, Lisa; Neufeld, Matthew
CommitteeVargo, Lisa; Wright, Sharon; Myers, Mark; Cunfer, Geoff
Copyright DateJune 2018